Sunday, September 14, 2014

If you're as opposed to the boycotts of Israel as I am, please read on.

From my friend Danny Sokol

Dear Colleagues:
The following statement is being circulated on numerous campuses to be released  in the next week or so.  We are trying to get signatures prior to it being posted, although people will also be able to sign up after it is posted.
If you are interested in singing, please drop a line indicating your approval to William Jacobson at Cornell Law, ( from your university/college email account. Note your title and affiliation. 
Also, feel free to share this with colleagues who might be interested.
The text of the statement cannot be changed at this point.  It is, by nature, a compromise statement intended to focus on core principles, not politics. I think it is very mild and broad. 
Here is the text of the statement:
We, the undersigned academics, vigorously support free speech and free debate but we oppose faculty or student boycotts of Israel’s academic institutions, scholars and students. 
 Our opposition is rooted in the following core principles. 

1.       Academic freedom:  The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement discriminates against Israeli institutions, professors, and students for no other reason than their nationality and the policies of their government. Thus BDS violates the very principle of academic freedom.  Academic boycotts such as those promoted by BDS activists “are antithetical to the fundamental principles of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment,”according to a statement signed by 300 university presidents in 2007, and additional statements written by over 250 university presidents last year in response to the ASA boycott of Israel. The American Association of University Professors, other academic organizations, and more than forty Nobel Laureates have opposed all academic boycotts for this reason. 
2.       Truth:   The factual record does not support the accusations and narratives of the BDS movement. Many are based on overstatements, cherry picked evidence, outright falsehood, or on disputed or highly biased data. 
3.       Peace: The two-state solution – which guarantees to both parties mutual recognition -- enjoys the endorsement of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and the Arab League. By demonizing and seeking to isolate one of the two parties to the peace process, the anti-Israel BDS movement sets itself apart from the global consensus for peace.
4.       Access to World-leading Scholarship:  BDS would have the practical impact of undermining academic cooperation and would deprive universities significant Israeli contributions in many academic areas, especially scientific research. It appears that such a loss is immaterial to the leaders in the BDS movement.
 This statement is not a response to any particular BDS effort on campus, but rather to the growing wave of such efforts by academic professional associations and so forth. The idea is to get out ahead of such efforts with a broadly subscribed statement.
Thank you.
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich
Northwestern University School of Law

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Am I a bit OCD about writing? Why, yes. Yes, I am.

Proof?  My latest proofreading affidavit for my students (here).

Dear Apple: fool me once, shame on you; fool me EIGHT TIMES, shame on me.

I give up.  I have owned eight of your Airport Time Machines.  Eight.  And the number of them that have failed catastrophically?  EIGHT, including the replacement one that the Apple Genius gave me yesterday (w/o a receipt, even though I asked).  I have no way of returning it for credit now, so you've cost me a couple of hundred bucks--or over a thousand bucks, if you count ALL of the ones I've purchased.  NO MAS.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Academic freedom for folks who don't yet have jobs at an institution.

I've been reading the back-and-forth on Professor Steven Salaita, and I've just finished reading a piece on David Frakt in The Atlantic.  According to the article, Frakt was the person who was thrown out of his deanship interview at Florida Coastal (by the President!) for talking about Coastal's students' likely success rate and the relationship of the success rate to the students' debt load.

From what I've read about Salaita (including reading his own tweets myself--some of which made me physically ill), his "uncivil" comments are not merely "uncivil."  Some of his comments are extremely vicious, and I think that some of the comments are also anti-Semitic.  So this professor is not a hero to me, by any means.  

Salaita has a complete right to say what he wants, thanks to freedom of speech.  I don't have to like him.  I don't have to listen to him.  But he has every right to say what he wants to say, and to say it in the way that he chooses to say it, even if I perceive some of what he's saying as exceptionally nasty.  The First Amendment protects him, and I'm glad that it does.

Whether academic freedom does, though, is not as easy a question.  (I've written a little something on this:, which reviews Matthew W. Finkin & Robert C. Post, For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom.)  I think that the issue is complicated.  "Academic freedom" doesn't protect every outburst.  It protects statements that people make while teaching and writing in their fields, but (to take some extreme examples) it won't protect someone who insists on teaching that the world is flat or that babies come from storks.

The more I spend time on social media, the more I think that people show their real selves there, and they show their real selves yet more when they post anonymously (though, of course, it's impossible to track down who the anonymous posters are).  Salaita's "real self" seems to me to be that of a bully--and a bully who would make his Israeli and Jewish students very, very nervous about whether he could be fair to them.  I would be as nervous about hiring him as I would about hiring a professor who posted screeds against any other group:  Arabs, Catholics, Mormons, single mothers (the list goes on and on).

But what interests me more is the difference between the outcry about Salaita and the absence of much outcry about Frakt.  Both people were prevented from getting their jobs because certain people didn't like what they were saying.  Frakt was, from what I've been reading, saying some perfectly sensible things about law schools and should have--at the least--been allowed to finish his deanship interview.  Salaita was saying some horrible things, but because they were rants against Israelis and Jews, his statements were more "socially acceptable" to the people who are aghast that the University of Illinois didn't approve his hiring.  That's a pretty awful contrast, in my opinion.

So I have to wonder:  where was the anger about cutting off Frakt's interview, and what is the difference between the two stories?

UPDATE:  I really liked this commentary.